19 March 2018
The Human Rights Council this morning held its annual debate on racial discrimination with a panel discussion focusing on promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination.
In his opening statement, Adam Abdelmoula, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the incitement to hatred and discrimination was on the rise. Minorities were treated with contempt and equal access to justice, employment, housing and voting rights was denied. Such behaviour was in flagrant contradiction with the United Nations Charter. Through education all had to provide the means to the younger generations to counter influences that would lead to fear and exclusion.
Sello Hatang, Chief Executive, Nelson Mandela Foundation, noted that racism must be understood as an apparatus of power that excluded and oppressed people of colour. Nelson Mandela’s enemies were not white people, but that apparatus of power. It was a system that oppressed people not only on the basis of race, but also along the intersecting lines of gender and ethnicity. The resilient North-South divide and patterns of inequality condemned people of colour to continued struggle for survival.
Foo Kok Jwee, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, said racial and religious harmony was a fundamental issue for his country. The Government was taking deliberate approaches to promote ethnic integration and diversity. Singapore was now asking if its ethnic harmony was the cause of tolerance or mutual understanding and respect as it was understanding that made societies more resilient.
Nicolas Marugan, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said 50 years ago, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination had been adopted and today it was ratified by 179 States. Still, a push for universal ratification had to be made. Racial discrimination was an increasing concern. Education systems were vital to understanding the principle of human dignity and to neutralize prejudice and stereotypes.
Fatou Diome, writer, said she spoke on behalf of those who did not have voice and were in despair. She recalled that the mistreatment of migrants was a recurring theme of her books. A satisfying solution to the problem of racism had not been found. Black people in Europe were treated like rats. America sometimes gave the worst examples of racism. It seemed as if people did not understand that black lives mattered.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted with concern that racial discrimination and xenophobia were on the rise. The international community must prioritize the fight against intolerance and do so within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. States were urged to combat all forms of discrimination, including online forms of hate speech. Speakers asserted that acts of discrimination and hate were obvious threats to the rule of law.
Speaking were the delegations of European Union; Angola, on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries; Morocco, on behalf of the Francophone Group; Togo, on behalf of the African Group; France; Brazil; Algeria; Sierra Leone; Ecuador; India; Cuba; Egypt; United States; Tunisia; Mexico; Bahrain; Senegal; Argentina; South Africa; Haiti; Venezuela; Iran; Iraq; and United Arab Emirates.
The following non-government organizations also took the floor: Australian Human Rights Commission, in a video message; International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism; Article 19 – The International Centre against Censorship; Equality and Human Rights Commission of Great Britain, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (in a joint statement with the Scottish Human Rights Commission); Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik; and Conseil International de Soutien à des Procès Equitables et aux Droits de l’Homme.
The Council will next consider the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review of Benin, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan, Ukraine and Sri Lanka.
VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, said that in its resolution 72/157 the General Assembly had requested the President of the Council to continue to convene annual commemorative meetings of the Council during the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Assembly had further decided that the theme of this year’s debate would be on promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity.
ADAM ABDELMOULA, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanism Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination had helped millions of people to obtain freedom from exploitation, injustice and impoverishment. Nevertheless, today incitement to hatred and discrimination based on race, ethnic or national origin and religion were on the rise. Hate crimes against migrants, foreigners and members of minorities were increasing and xenophobia was openly endorsed. Minorities were treated with contempt and their equal access to justice, employment, housing or voting rights was denied. Such behaviour was in flagrant contradiction with the United Nations Charter. For that reason, the focus had to be on education and educating children early about tolerance, respect and human rights. Learning tools had to be centred about values, attitudes and behaviours that enabled individuals to live together in a pluralistic world.
Through education, the world had to provide the means to the younger generations to be able to counter influences that would lead to fear and exclusion. Cultural globalization was on its way and the only option was to accompany it by inculcating younger generations’ values of respect, diversity, unity and equality. The diversity of the world’s many religions, languages and cultures could not be a pretext for xenophobic attitudes, violence or conflict. Mr. Abdelmoula concluded with Nelson Mandela’s vision for tolerance and diversity in the twenty-first century that all constituted one human family and to make the twenty-first century an era of genuine fulfilment and peace, all must strive to remind themselves of this great possibility.
Statements by the Panellists SELLO HATANG, Chief Executive at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, speaking about what racism looked like nowadays, noted that it looked like black lives did not matter as much as other lives in North America and South Africa, like countries of the North being uncaring about Africans in distress, about those suffering in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria, like Australia offering special sanctuary to white South African farmers on the pretext of dispossession, and like racial profiling at Zurich airport. Racism had to be understood as an apparatus of power that excluded and oppressed people of colour. Nelson Mandela’s enemy was not white people, but that apparatus of power. It was a system that had oppressed people not only on the basis of race, but also along the intersecting lines of gender and ethnicity. The structures of power which determined that 24 years after the demise of apartheid, white people in South Africa still enjoyed privileged access to land. In South Africa, the private sector was the engine of racism. In 2016 white people still constituted 68.9 per cent of top management, while they were only nine per cent of the economically active population. Only three per cent of top management positions were occupied by black Africans. Racism in South Africa was privatized. The resilient North-South divide and patterns of inequality condemned people of colour to continued struggle of survival. New forms of racism, such as environmental racism, were emerging. For example, it was easy to run a pipe through the lands of a first nation or dump waste near black communities. It was necessary for people to confront their own biases and privileges, and thus structural elements of racism.
FOO KOK JWEE, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, said racial and religious harmony was a fundamental issue for his country. Singapore did not adopt a laissez-faire approach to racial and religious issues. The Government was taking deliberate approaches to promote ethnic integration and diversity. One example was the nation’s public housing regulations that ensured that residents proportionately represented the country’s racial makeup. These policies fostered closer relations among diverse groups. The political system ensured minority representation in Congress. Freedom of speech and expression was constitutionally protected, however, abuse of those rights to denigrate any individual or group was not tolerated. Singapore was now asking if its ethnic harmony was the cause of tolerance or mutual understanding and respect. The goal was to foster understanding as that principle made societies more resilient to forces seeking to divide it.
NICOLAS MARUGAN, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said that 58 years ago thousands of South Africans had met to protest oppression and humiliation. They had been detained and 69 people had been killed. This horror had changed the fight against apartheid and was commemorated in the entire world as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Fifty years ago, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination had been adopted and today it was ratified by 179 States. Still, a push for universal ratification had to be made. More data and studies were needed for socio-economic indicators and further desegregation of data on racial discrimination. Education systems were vital to understanding the principle of human dignity and to neutralize prejudice and stereotypes and this had to be a priority which would define the world in which all lived in in five to ten years. In a world suffering from intolerance, education should be the key. In addition to education, employment was another priority. The unemployment and inactivity rate had to be disaggregated based on ethnic origin since it was partially the result of segregation. Combatting discrimination against non-citizens, particularly migrants and migrant workers, was also encouraged. Clear leadership was needed to combat racism as the existence of racist behaviour could not be denied.
FATOU DIOME, Writer, said she spoke on behalf of those who did not have voice and were in despair. She recalled that the mistreatment of migrants was a recurring theme of her books. A satisfying solution to the problem of racism had not been found. Therefore, art had to continue and persist in highlighting that issue. Black people in Europe were treated like rats. What kind of diversity could they speak about? America sometimes gave the worst examples of racism. It seemed as if people did not understand that black lives mattered. Racism and discrimination were not just hate speech and insults, but also political decisions which conveyed the indifference to certain populations and their problems. The problem of migrants was a very sad example of that. Ms. Diome reminded Europe of the spirit of law of Montesquieu, and of the Irish people who had emigrated to America. The millions of Africans were full-fledged citizens who claimed their rights and share of wellbeing. It was not just white people who could benefit from the freedom of movement. Human rights were not about tolerating someone like a neighbour’s dog. Human rights were meant for everyone. Ms. Diome deplored revanchist racism and the extremist movements of Europe which created extremism elsewhere. Education was the most powerful weapon to change the world and it should shed light on the path for all peoples in the world. All lives mattered, and above all, love should matter.
Discussion European Union said its Member States remained fully committed to the fight against racism. The European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights played a critical role in helping States monitor trends related to racism and discrimination. Angola, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, said there was a clear need to step up global efforts to combat threats to liberty. Respect for tolerance and diversity allowed for the overcoming of obstacles to justice. Morocco, speaking on behalf of LaFrancophonie, said La Francophonie’s unity and diversity were great sources of pride. It reiterated its commitment to fighting racism and intolerance on the ground, stressing it was more important than ever to invest in youth.
Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed concern over the rise in racist discourse, especially against minority groups. The Africa Group called on all States to counter all forms of racism and provide assistance to victims of racist acts. France said values of respect and tolerance must guide the actions of States. Combatting racism was a long-term priority for France and efforts would be made to combat hate speech online. Brazil, mourning the recent assassination of Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco, said crimes based on race were crimes against the rule of law. The fight against racism must be a priority for the international community.
Algeria said that its national legal framework had been adjusted to the universal norms present in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The international community was urged to fight against all forms of racial discrimination. Sierra Leone shared the outcomes of the fifteenth session of the intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Work was being undertaken by various networks of cities against racism, including the 10-point action plan elaborated by the European Coalition of Cities against Racism. Ecuador noted that some racial crimes and discrimination were a direct consequence of hate speech which had not been regulated properly, but on the contrary, had been allowed through legislation. A widespread dialogue was undergoing in Ecuador with thousands of citizens addressing over 200 themes to promote tolerance and plurality.
India said that racial discrimination was the anti-thesis of everything humanity stood for and it was deeply concerned about the recurrence of racism. The panellists were asked to explain how to promote tolerance in situations of injustice, violence and marginalization of the targeted individuals. Cuba said that the rise of extremist political parties and movements in developing countries as well as the increase of xenophobia, particularly against migrants, had reached alarming levels. Tangible measures had to be implemented to reduce populism. Egypt reminded that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that everyone was equal in their rights. Migrants and people of African descent were often targeted by racists so countries which had not yet ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination were asked to do so.
Australian Human Rights Commission noted that racism had no place in society, but unfortunately, xenophobia and hatred were resurgent. Although Australia was a successful and proud multicultural society, prejudice and intolerance were given endorsement in public debates. International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism underlined the role of civil society in combatting racism. It voiced concern about the situation of human rights defenders of migrants, who faced threats and harassment in many countries. Institutional weakness and the lack of political will contributed to that problem. Article 19 – The International Centre against Censorship paid tribute to Marielle Franco, the recently murdered Rio de Janeiro city council member and human rights activist, noting that all Governments had to end impunity and lift constraints on the work of human rights defenders.
United States stressed that discrimination was incompatible with respect for human rights, and called attention to racism against women and girls. How could Governments more effectively address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination? Tunisia called for the implementation of the right measures to limit the impact of racism and discrimination and protect the most vulnerable populations. Tunisia reminded that it was one of the first countries to abolish slavery, and it highlighted the role of education in fighting racism and prejudice. Mexico voiced concern about the stigmatization of migrants, reminding that international migration brought many economic and cultural benefits both for countries of origin and destination. Mexico was committed to the absolute respect for the human rights of all migrants and to the shared responsibility for managing migration.
Bahrain said peaceful coexistence was based on commonalities and urged the creation of national plans aimed at promoting social diversity. Educational programmes must be implemented to combat hatred. Senegal stressed that combatting discrimination was a national priority. Legislation was in place to foster hospitality and tolerance and policies were egalitarian and based on the rule of law. Argentina said challenges to implementing relevant mechanisms were exacerbated by the global rise of xenophobia. Argentina’s national policy recognized the importance of people of African descent.
South Africa was grateful for the large-scale and high-level participation in the panel. The Human Rights Council must transcend the divisions that arose from addressing issues of discrimination to better respond to the situation. Haiti said race was a social construct used by certain peoples to conquer others. Haiti had always understood the right to non-discrimination as a fundamental right and called on all States to work productively in the fight against racism. Venezuela expressed concern over the dangerous increase in racism and discrimination around the world. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a sound foundation to promote tolerance, inclusion and respect.
Iran said it repeatedly demonstrated its unequivocal commitment to help eliminate racism, discrimination and intolerance in all forms and manifestations. It was sad that today a few well-known political voices still insisted on building walls between nations, speaking vulgar remarks against people of African origin, continuing discriminatory policies on immigration, and introducing travel bans. Iraq said its Government had introduced policies to establish social justice and combat discrimination. The Constitution provided freedoms to all and strove to combat all forms of discrimination. United Arab Emirates noted that this year the debate on discrimination was being marked in an atmosphere of intolerance against migrants. Almost 20 years after the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, incidents of racial discrimination and hate were more frequent than ever.
Equality and Human Rights Commission of Great Britain, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in a joint statement with the Scottish Human Rights Commission, expressed its concern about increases in racially motivated hate crime, in particular following the European Union referendum. Barriers to report and record hate crime continued to exist across the United Kingdom. Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said that migrants, who constituted 3.3 per cent of the world’s population, were one of the most vulnerable minority groups. In Iran, refugees from Afghanistan were not permitted to move freely within the country, or to own land or businesses, even after having lived there for 30 years. Conseil International de Soutien à des Procès Equitables et aux Droits de l’Homme noted that the violence of the British and the Americans in the Middle East had resulted in the death of Libyans, Egyptians, Sahrawis and Iraqis. Kuwait was a notable example of an oppressive regime where hatred was fuelled against foreigners.
Concluding Remarks SELLO HATANG, Chief Executive at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, noted that hatred had been shown in South Africa by the killing of 69 persons on 21 March 1960 in Sharpeville, and the maiming of around 180. It was important that those countries which had not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination show their commitment by ratifying it. Justice should never have “us” and “them”. Righting the wrongs of the past should start with eliminating that divide. One of the things that led to that division was the forgetfulness of people. Some South Africans still used the symbols of the past to demonstrate grievances against the Government. That forgetfulness led to people losing sight of their responsibility to fight racism and discrimination. Mr. Hatang highlighted the problem of trust deficit in institutions because they tolerated impunity, including the role of the private sector which tended to exercise public power. They were emboldened by the State not taking action.
FOO KOK JWEE, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking of positive examples in promoting tolerance, reminded of the role of education, which should go beyond schools. Ignorance about ethnic and religious groups could lead to misunderstanding and prejudice. In Singapore, the Government worked with religious leaders and civil society to create safe spaces for dialogue and build confidence among community leaders to address problems in times of crisis. A 2013 survey had found that people in Singapore believed they received fair treatment from the police, which was a remarkable achievement. Norms and trust took a long time to build, but could be eroded in a very short time. The State could play a very important adjudicating role in building trust and norms.
FATOU DIOME, Writer, said all States speaking of the struggles posed by racism and not acting on them was an obstacle to progress. Lack of reaction was frustrating and remained a shortcoming. Children must be encouraged to foster peace and unity. Arabs and blacks could not be segregated and education must be accessible to all and promote diversity. Media depictions of people in Africa must be more positive and cultural exchanges would be of great benefit.
NICOLAS MARUGAN, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said there was a need for greater action and resources to better combat racism. States were urged to implement plans based on tangible actions and on data. While outreach was necessary, it alone could not improve the situation. Plans must target all forms of discrimination, including within the education system. Violence was at times normalized in the media and the manipulation of information was leading to intolerance. Under-reporting of hate crimes remained an obstacle to designing effective approaches to countering racial discrimination.
For use of the information media; not an official record